When the time comes to sit down, relax, and watch a good old-fashioned baseball game, you may notice something out of the ordinary. Most of the time, if you take a closer look at the catcher, they have their nails painted.
While catchers wearing nail polish is not very common, it has become necessary for some catchers in the MLB. Why is that?
Why do baseball catchers paint their nails for games?
The reason catchers wear nail polish in baseball games is to communicate with the pitcher more clearly.
In the MLB, the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate is about 60 feet and 6 inches. As a result, the pitcher may have difficulty understanding the catcher's hand signals. Thus, catchers opt to paint their nails or wear vibrant nail stickers to make their hands more visible.
There are a few nail polish shades that catchers gravitate towards — white, yellow, orange, and neon variations of any color.
In the photo above, former LA Dodgers catcher Rocky Gale is wearing orange nail polish on his fingers during a 2019 face-off against the Cincinnati Reds. The bright color contrasts against their blue and white uniforms, allowing the pitcher to pick up the hand signals a lot easier.
Sometimes, the catcher's hands blend in with their fingers.
Most baseball teams have several uniforms that they wear sporadically throughout the season. There are home game uniforms, away game uniforms, throwback uniforms, and other variations where jersey and pants hues complement each other.
Because of this, Baseball Training World reports, "All of these different mix-n-match combinations means there’s a good chance that a catcher will wind up with a pair of baseball pants that just happens to blend in perfectly with their fingers." Wearing nail paint means this confusion can be avoided.
How did the nail polish tradition begin?
Though it's hard to trace back to the first time this practice appeared in baseball, the former catcher for New York Yankees, Russell Martin, made headlines for his bright orange nail polish back in 2011.
In an article from Newsday, Russell Martin spoke on his decision to paint his nails, saying he used to use Wite-Out, but that was a messy post-game hassle. Eventually, he switched to vivid nail polish colors, such as orange.
"There were a couple guys who had a hard time seeing in spring training, so I just took action in my own hands and got stuff done," Russell stated.
Former Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett shared his thoughts on Russell's decision, adding "He don't care. He's here to do one thing, and that's [to] help us win. If he's got to wear pink fingernail polish, he'll do it."